Governor Calls For Reform Of Utility Commission, US Border Patrol Checkpoints In New Mexico Reopen

Aug 7, 2019

Governor Says Utility Commission Needs To Be ReformedAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is questioning recent decisions of a powerful regulatory commission that oversees the state's largest electric utility, rural cooperatives and other companies.

The first-year governor says reforming the Public Regulation Commission is needed to ensure the success of landmark legislation that sets new renewable energy goals and charts a course for closing a major coal-fired power plant.

Lujan Grisham on Tuesday announced her intention to have lawmakers consider reforms during the next legislative session.

Her office didn't propose any specifics but plans to hear from stakeholders.

The Legislature already has cleared the way for voters to consider a constitutional amendment that proposes reducing the commission from five to three members. Instead of being elected, they would be chosen by the governor from a list of qualified candidates compiled by a nominating committee.

El Paso, With Deep Mexican American Past, Rallies Amid PainAssociated Press

The mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart struck a city that some call a Mexican American intellectual, political and literary center.

Investigators believe the white shooter wrote an anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant online rant before killing 22 people in a community where Mexican Americans once faced violence from white mobs.

However, since World War II Mexican Americans have transformed the city into a key bicultural center that has helped reshape U.S. Latino life.

El Paso-born novelist Sergio Troncoso says Mexican Americans helped make El Paso one of the safest big cities.

But he says the shooting is triggering memories of when Mexican Americans faced racial violence and highlighting the nation's trouble with white nationalism today.

New Mexico To Issue Contract For Security Master PlanAssociated Press

New Mexico is close to hiring a private firm to develop a security master plan for state government buildings in Santa Fe.

General Services Secretary Ken Ortiz said Wednesday his department will soon award a contract for the work to one of three firms that were issued price agreements last month for security master planning.

The selected firm will work with the state Department of Public Safety and the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to assess the buildings and address vulnerabilities.

The company will have to come up with security policies and procedures, lead training exercises and develop a three- to five-year plan to implement recommended security measures.

State officials say recommendations could include more security cameras and guards, better outdoor lighting, security badges for access and fencing.

New Mexico City Rejects Federal Border Security Grant Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A New Mexico city has rejected a more than $48,000 grant that supports cooperation between local law enforcement and federal agents on security efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the Las Cruces City Council voted Monday against participation in the federal program known as Operation Stonegarden, citing concerns about its connection to immigration policy and its lax accountability standards.

City officials have vowed to find local funding to replace the federal dollars to the police department.

Police Chief Patrick Gallagher advocated for the acceptance of the grant, saying the money is mostly used for narcotics enforcement and to intercept human traffickers.

He says the money has also covered overtime and mileage costs and the purchase of three patrol vehicles.

Congresswoman Haaland Faces Lawsuit From Teen Viral VideoAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Parents of Kentucky teens are suing one of the nation's only Native American congresswomen over comments she made about a viral video of the teens and a Native American drummer.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the parents of eight Covington Catholic High School students filed suit on behalf of their sons last week in Kenton County Circuit Court in Kentucky against Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland of Albuquerque.

The lawsuit claims Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo member, and 11 others libeled the minors over the events shown in the video.

A federal judge last month threw out a similar lawsuit accusing the Washington Post of falsely labeling one of the teens as a racist.

Haaland's office says the congresswoman has not seen the lawsuit.

Trump Words Linked To More Hate Crime? Some Experts Think SoAssociated Press

President Donald Trump often rails about an "invasion of illegals" at the border, words echoed in a screed the El Paso shooting suspect apparently posted that called the attack that killed 22 people his response to an "Hispanic invasion."

Some extremism experts say data suggests a link between heated rhetoric from leaders and ensuing reports of hate crimes.

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that after the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist rally — when Trump cited "fine people on both sides" — reported hate crimes increased to the second-highest monthly tally in nearly a decade.

Another study found counties that hosted Trump rallies in 2016 saw a 226% increase in reported hate incidents over comparable counties that did not host such a rally.

New Mexico House Speaker Eyes Special Session Over TerrorismAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf is calling for a special session that would focus on legislation aimed at combating potential domestic terrorism in the border state.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Egolf said Tuesday the special session could take place after leading lawmakers hear from law enforcement officials and state Cabinet secretaries at a domestic terrorism summit later this month.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the summit earlier this week following the deadly shooting in El Paso that killed 22 people.

The Santa Fe Democrat says the special session would likely last just one or two days and could focus on legislation creating a new counter-terrorism unit within the state Department of Public Safety.

Lujan Grisham spokesperson Tripp Stelnicki says any special session talk was premature.

Uruguay Issues Travel Warning Against Albuquerque, Detroit - Associated Press

Uruguay issued a warning to its citizens early this week about traveling to the U.S. after two mass shootings killed more than 30 people.

The Latin American country also cited three cities citizens should avoid: Albuquerque, Detroit and Baltimore.

Uruguay's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the three cities are among the 20 most dangerous in the world and cited CEOWORLD magazine at its source.

Albuquerque has garnered national attention in recent years over its high auto theft rates and violent shootings.

Uruguay advised its citizens to avoid U.S. theme parks, shopping centers, art festivals, religious activities and sporting events.

Albuquerque spokesperson Matt Ross said it was absurd for Albuquerque to be cited.

Venezuela's Foreign Ministry also issued a statement suggesting its citizens "postpone travel" to the U.S. in light of "hate crimes."

State Agreed To $1M In Settlements With 3 Former Employees - Associated Press

Documents show the state reached settlements totaling $1 million with three former state employees within the New Mexico Department of Public Safety.

The settlement terms detailed in documents that were released Tuesday show Amy Orlando, a former deputy secretary for DPS, and another department employee each received $300,000. Another employee settled for $400,000.

The payouts were authorized last year near the end of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration after several employees sued the state with complaints ranging from wrongful termination and hostile workplace issues to retaliatory and inappropriate behavior by former State Police Chief Pete Kassetas.

He has denied wrongdoing.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration released the previously undisclosed settlement agreements after a 180-day period passed that had prevented them from doing so.

This story replaces a previous version that erroneously described the records released as court documents.

Official Says Nuke Program Serves As 'Ultimate Insurance Policy'By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The head of the U.S. agency that maintains the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal says the country is facing the most complex and demanding global security environment since the Cold War.

National Nuclear Security Administration chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty spoke Tuesday at a business expo in New Mexico.

She said that Russia and China are investing significant resources to upgrade and expand their capabilities, Iran has increased its nuclear stockpile beyond limits set by a 2015 accord and North Korea's intentions remain unclear.

She described the United States' nuclear program as the "ultimate insurance policy."

Gordon-Hagerty's visit comes as the NNSA faces pressure to ramp up production of plutonium pits at facilities in New Mexico and South Carolina. The pits are key components for nuclear weapons.

EPA Official Defends Work On New Mexico Contamination Issue Associated Press

An official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says he's hopeful posturing by public officials in New Mexico won't derail work being done by federal and state teams to better understand the scope of contamination at two military bases in the state.

EPA regional administrator Ken McQueen sent a letter to the New Mexico officials Tuesday.

It was in response to concerns by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state Environment Secretary James Kenney that the EPA wasn't helping with New Mexico's legal fight against the U.S. Air Force over contamination at Cannon and Holloman bases.

McQueen previously served as New Mexico's energy secretary and was recently appointed to the federal post. He says technical teams from the EPA and the state have been working to evaluate conditions at the bases and identify data gaps.

US Border Patrol Checkpoints In New Mexico Reopen - Associated Press

U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints in New Mexico have reopened.

The Border Patrol announced Tuesday that the inland checkpoints that were closed earlier this year are back in operation.

Officials say a decrease in the number of migrants arriving at the border has allowed for agents to return to the posts. The surge in illegal crossings during the last few months had overwhelmed the system, requiring agents to be reassigned.

With the checkpoints open, officials say agents are watching for human smuggling, drug trafficking and any people who may be wanted fugitives.

They say the checkpoints are a secondary layer of defense against criminal activity attempting to make its way into the United States.

New Mexico Judge Broadens Medical Marijuana ProgramAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A New Mexico judge has ordered state officials to issue identification cards for the medical marijuana program to all qualifying patients, including people who live outside the state.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the judge's order Monday was in response to an emergency petition filed by three out-of-state residents after the state Department of Health denied their applications to enter the cannabis program.

A state law that took effect in June removed the program's New Mexico resident requirement.

Department officials argued the change was not intended to allow non-residents to obtain medical marijuana cards.

It also says allowing non-residents in the program would encourage the transport of cannabis across state lines.

The department says it plans to file a response to the court order later this month.

Ex-New Mexico Police Chief Sentenced For Child SolicitationRoswell Daily Record, Associated Press

A former police chief in a New Mexico town has been sentenced to three years of probation and must register as a sex offender for sending sexual images and texts to a child.

The Roswell Daily Record reports 68-year-old Cassius "Cass" Mason was sentenced Monday after the former Hagerman police chief pleaded no contest to child solicitation by electronic device.

Chaves County authorities say Mason gave a cellphone to the girl and asked her send pictures of herself.

The victim's mother found the phone and alerted authorities to the sexual images and explicit texts.

A six-year prison sentence and two years of parole were suspended.

Prosecutors dropped sexual exploitation and criminal sexual contact charges in exchange for his plea.

Roswell Man Arrested On Federal Firearms, Explosives Charges – Associated Press

A Roswell man arrested on federal firearms and explosives charges is facing a preliminary and detention hearings.

Joshua Daniel Vaughn made his initial appearance Wednesday in federal court in Roswell.

Prosecutors say the 31-year-old Vaughn is being held on a criminal complaint charging him with being illegally in possession of firearms and making destructive explosive devices.

His preliminary hearing has yet to be scheduled, but will be held in federal court in Las Cruces.

Vaughn was taken into custody Monday for questioning by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

According to the criminal complaint, the investigation into Vaughn began Monday after Roswell police received a tip about a man seen loading multiple firearms into a vehicle.

Officers stopped Vaughn's car and allegedly recovered seven firearms.

Roswell Police Say Guns Found, Home Searched For Explosives Associated Press

Roswell police say at least one suspicious person's phone call about a man placing multiple weapons on a car trunk led police to a home believed to possibly contain explosives.

Police said responding officers secured the weapons and took the 31-year-old man into custody late Monday for questioning by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The man's identity wasn't released.

Meanwhile, police said New Mexico State Police bomb technicians were at the home on a sparsely populated dead-block Tuesday to search for explosives after another home was evacuated overnight as a precaution.

Police Chief Phil Smith said calls from the public about suspicions activity can help avert violence such as the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.